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BY LINDSAY REINSMITH

Lindsay is the founder and CEO of Kaeng Raeng natural detox.

For years I struggled to become a “good” runner.  I felt like no matter how many times I jumped on that treadmill or went for a run, I was breathless after 10 minutes.  I knew my body was so much stronger and I was more capable.  I could easily do hours on a bike – why was running so difficult?  After I was diagnosed with asthma while in college (and again in my mid-20’s after I stubbornly ignored it for 5 years), it became clear that I needed to re-examine my fitness goals.

Today, I’m still not a “good” runner despite trying 4-5 times/week.  I run with my boyfriend and he can literally run laps around me.  Some of us were born to run, others not so much.

If you’re someone with asthma who would still like to enjoy a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, particularly running, there are ways to manage your asthma and still get a great workout.  I have found over time a few simple steps to continue running.  Please do not take my advice if a doctor has not cleared you for exercise – each person’s exercise needs and abilities are different.

What is asthma?

You may hear the term thrown around a lot, or seen advertisements on TV for various asthma-related medications, but perhaps you’re not even sure what it really is.  Asthma  is a common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.  It is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.  A diagnosis of asthma is common among top athletes. One survey of participants in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., showed that 15% had been diagnosed with asthma, and that 10% were on asthma medication.

Many people with asthma manage it with a basic non-steroid inhaler which helps to open the lungs before or after an asthma attack trigger.  Avoiding allergens is another way people manage asthma (but may not be practical given normal constraints).

Where to Exercise

One of the best ways to exercise with asthma is indoors in a controlled setting like a gym, on a treadmill.  In the event of an asthma attack or medical emergency, being around other people, fresh water, and an inhaler can help prevent serious injury.  Being in a climate controlled setting (like in air conditioning in a hot climate) also helps your lungs recover after bouts of exertion.  Other great places include the pool (the moisture in the air from swimming is great for the lungs), any moist or humid setting, and places with warm (but not blazing hot) weather.

Types of Exercise

While this article is mostly about running, there are plenty of other great forms of exercise that don’t include running that may be more suitable for people with asthma.  These include swimming, biking or spinning, walking, climbing stairs, elliptical, rowing, pilates, or yoga.   Sports that allow for intervals of rest are also great including volleyball, tennis, softball, and gymnastics.

One of the best ways to run with asthma is with interval trainingInterval training is a type of physical training that involves bursts of high intensity work. This high intensity work is alternated with periods of recovery (which may involve complete rest and/or lower intensity activity).  This type of training is great for people with asthma because it can give you time to catch your breath while keeping your heart rate up.  I typically do interval sprinting 30 seconds running at 8.5 mph or higher and then resting for 30 seconds, on and off for 10-20 minutes.  During the “resting” period, my heart rate typically stays within 10 beats/second from my cardio rate.  I love interval training because of the feeling of accomplishment I get when I’ve finished a set.  It gets your heart rate up, your metabolism boosted, and the time flies by!

Types of Exercise To Avoid

It probably goes without saying, but any long-term endurance cardio can be a challenge for people with asthma.  Avoid cross country running, sports like basketball and soccer, and cold weather activities like skating or skiing.  Don’t feel like you’re out of shape just because you can’t finish a marathon.  Asthma is a serious condition – respect your body’s limitations.  If you have seasonal allergies that exacerbate your asthma, avoid running outdoors altogether.  If you live in a heavily polluted area, you may want to avoid running outdoors.  High altitude areas can also increase the risk of an asthma attack.

Simple Tips for Success

I always take two hits from my inhaler, 10 seconds apart, before I start any cardio.  I notice a difference immediately.  If I’ve forgotten to use my inhaler, I barely can last 5 minutes without getting out of breath.  With my inhaler, I can run for much longer.  Visit a doctor if you feel like you might have exercise-induced asthma.  They will have you blow into a tube that measures your air flow.  Most people with asthma regularly use an HFA inhaler.  Some people with more serious cases use a steroid inhaler – your doctor will know which one is best.

Always have plenty of water readily available.  Oxygen is a key component of water, so drinking it while out of breath can help to improve air flow in your lungs.

Use a heart rate monitor.   Your heart rate is important during exercise.  Most people try to stay within a “target zone” that’s also known as the “fat burning zone,” that’s an efficiency point for burning calories while still having energy for your body to endure.  I regularly check my heart rate to make sure I am within my goal zones so I am less focused on the distance I have gone, but more so how long and how hard my workout has been.

Always warm up and cool down.  Your body is like an instrument that needs a little tuning.  Start with some stretching and walking before running to avoid injury.  Warming up your lungs to exercise will help lower the chances of an asthma attack.  Also remember to cool down.  Jumping off a treadmill with your heart rate at 185 can make you dizzy.  Stay safe by easing out of your workout with walking, light jogging, biking, or using the elliptical.

Have a positive mind frame.  So much of running, I believe, is mental.  As soon as you start to doubt yourself and your body, the running will become a painful chore rather than an enjoyable form of exercise.  Stay positive!  Use upbeat music, run with a friend, or repeat to yourself that you’re doing great while running.  Don’t let having asthma disable you – it’s a manageable condition that does not have to stop you from getting a great sweat!

Good luck, healthy girl.

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